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Bookmakers take coronavirus hit too

24th March, 17:09

Bookmakers are holding their breath as the billion-dollar sports betting industry also feels the pinch of the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

As global sporting events grind to a halt so too do opportunities for punters to splash their cash, leaving bookies reeling from the fallout and scrambling to come up with novel alternatives to try to mitigate their crippling losses.

British betting agencies are said to have laid off staff and industry insiders fear the same will happen in Australia if horse racing is shut down in the same way as the major sporting codes have been.

According to reports quoting official government figures, Australians dropped a staggering $4.37 billion in racing and sports punting in 2016/17 - well before the saturation of mobile phone apps offering endless betting options.

There were some 200 individual bet types on both AFL and NRL matches, ranging from simple head-to-heads to automated algorithmic in-game multi options and last point-scorer options that allowed punters to invest from kick-off right up until fulltime.

With competitions suspended en masse, that has left bookmakers with voids impossible to fill.

Little wonder officials are doing everything in their power to keep racing going during the unprecedented health and financial crisis.

Fresh off announcing the suspension of the NRL season this week in his role as Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys says it's vital that ghost meetings even without fans continue.

"I think racing boosts the spirits of people. It gives them something to look forward to and we'll continue to race as long as we can," V'landys told Sky Racing.

"But it's a fluid situation and the government, we're in their hands and the chief medical officer's hands and, as I learnt in the rugby league world, what happened one day wasn't relevant the next day.

"So we've got to be realistic about this and expect the worst ... if there's a complete lockdown, it absolutely affects us as well."

Offering hope amid the gloom, V'landys said horse racing was a different beast to the NRL.

"The NRL's a contact sport; racing isn't," he said.

"The players congregate with each other much more than we do in racing. There's a lot of factors that are completely different between the two sports.

"So I believe is still safe to continue, especially if we have all the biosecurity measures in place at all our racecourses.

"We're abiding by all the government guidelines and being extra cautious.

"We're checking people's temperatures, jockeys' temperatures. We're putting the jockeys in five different rooms, we're looking at even harsher measures with jockeys' isolations.

"We may look to limiting jockeys to certain tracks throughout NSW to avoid the unnecessary travel and social interaction between the regions."

But even if the show goes on, there is certain to be major financial ramifications.

"Fifty per cent of our turnover comes from pubs, clubs and TAB agencies and the other 50 per cent comes from digital," V'landys said.

"So it will be interesting to see how much of that pub, club and TAB agency migrates to digital.

"We're hoping there's significant migration to that channel but we'll have to review that after this week to see where that sits."